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Snakes' virtual glasses, leopard spots and all-optical transistors

Even in the dark, snakes on a plane (at least those of the pit viper and boa varieties) could keep a close watch on terrorized passengers and crew thanks to small cavities near their snouts known as pit organs. The organs are sensitive to the infrared radiation emitted by warm prey such as rats, rabbits, and Samuel L. Jackson. An optical analysis of pit organs suggests that snakes shouldn't be able to use the organ to track prey very well because the pit aperture is large and the organ is not very deep. However, studies have shown that snakes can localize heat sources to a surprisingly accurate resolution of five degrees (roughly the angular width of "Snakes on a Plane" costar Rachel Blanchard at three meters).

Physicists at the Technische Universität München believe the solution to the paradox could be a network of neurons in the snakes' brains –a kind of snake brain firmware - that provides image enhancement as though the snakes were wearing virtual corrective lenses. Because snakes' brains are small, the physicists kept their model of an image enhancing network simple. They discovered that even a crude network dramatically improves infrared imaging - which you might want to keep in mind if you ever book a flight on a snake-infested airline.

A Model of Changing Leopard Spots
R. T. Liu, S. S. Liaw, and P. K. Maini
Physical Review E
http://link.aps.org/abstract/PRE/v74/e011914

Leopard's spots and Zebra's stripes inspired the ancient myths famously retold in Kipling's "Just So Stories." They also led legendary mathematician Alan Turing to suggest that some patterns in nature are due to various chemicals, or morphogens, diffusing across surfaces and forming shapes where they interact. Few Turing-type models, however, addressed the fact that such patterns may evolve over time. A two-stage variation of Turing's model, recently developed by physicists at Taiwan's Nationa
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Source:American Physical Society


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